Crick Follows Familiar, Bumpy Path For Giants

GREENSBORO, N.C.—Righthander Kyle Crick can put this season's ups and downs with low Class A Augusta in perspective. Not too long ago, two of the Giants' current starters were in his shoes.

Pitching coordinator Bert Bradley said Crick's work with his changeup reminds him of Madison Bumgarner. Five seasons ago, Bradley watched Bumgarner rely too heavily on his fastball and slider in a South Atlantic League game.

Bumgarner came off the field after a particularly tough inning, and Bradley sat him down and ordered him to mix in at least a few changeups the next inning, regardless of the situation. The lefthander went out and threw 18 straight changeups, striking out the side.

"He came back to the dugout and asked me if that was enough," Bradley recalled. "What could I say? I said, 'Yeah, that's about right.' Case closed."

Bradley said Crick, 19, is also conquering the changeup this year, albeit not as dramatically as Bumgarner did. Crick's development has been slowed by command issues, the same problem Matt Cain had when he was toiling in low Class A back in 2003.

"(Cain) tried to make everyone miss," Bradley said. "When he started throwing two-seamers and changeups, that's when he progressed. Kyle is the same kind of pitcher."

That's why Bradley is glad Cain spent quality time with Crick in spring training this year. Crick, who was a supplemental first-round pick out of high school in Texas last year, said the two discussed more than just the nuts and bolts of pitching.

"We talked about baseball and how to carry yourself when you get to the big leagues," Crick said. "He's a great guy. He's a workhorse, too."

Cain is the kind of pitcher Crick said he wants to be. Crick was off to a 3-4, 2.79 start with 73 strikeouts and 34 walks in 58 innings for Augusta this season. And when the young pitcher found himself making many of the same mistakes he did in the Rookie-level Arizona League last year—struggling with his command and leaving games early with high pitch counts—he remembered that Cain had been there, too.

"I think talking to Matty opened his eyes more than anything else," Bradley said. "It's helped him get better. He's going deeper into games now. The biggest focus for him this year is trying to cut down on his walks and pitching to contact."

Things Could've Been Different

Part of the issue may be Crick's high school background. His junior season at Sherman High in Texas was essentially a lost year.

"I don't really want to blame it on a coach, but I had a coach who didn't throw me out there too much," Crick said. "I pitched maybe 10 innings my junior year. I threw a lot in JV and had always pitched, but for whatever reason I didn't much as a junior."

So Crick turned his focus to football. He was a star defensive end and tight end, talented enough to draw offers from Texas State and several other smaller Division I programs. Luckily for the Giants, his senior year changed all that, and San Francisco took him with the 49th overall pick based mostly on his size—6-foot-4, 220 pounds—and fastball velocity.

Since then, Crick has spent his time harnessing that fastball and refining his curveball and changeup. The righthander already has a good slider, Augusta pitching coach Mike Caldwell said.

"But he's got to throw the fastball and slider with command," Caldwell added. "That's why he has trouble getting through that fifth inning. It's not so much that he can't get in and out of the inning, it's that his pitch count gets too high."
Crick said he doesn't think his mechanics are the problem.

"I just get out of whack," he said. "I need to calm down and throw more strikes."

That's important not just for his fastball, but also for the development of his changeup, which he throws in the high 80s. By the halfway point of the season Crick had turned the corner mentally and was comfortable throwing it in any situation.

"I throw it good in the bullpen, I just need to keep working on it in games," Crick said. "If the catcher calls for it, I'm comfortable throwing it. I know I can't just blow it by hitters at this level. The first inning, maybe, but they'll catch up to it. It's more about location and timing here."

Going To Battle

Crick has also made strides with his curveball. In several starts, including a seven-inning shutout in June against Greensboro, one of the top offensive clubs in the league, he went to his curveball when his slider wasn't working and threw it consistently for strikes.

The curveball, which has good depth and tilt, makes it that much harder on hitters to catch up to his fastball, which Caldwell said is surprisingly deceptive.

"When you watch him pitch, it doesn't look like the ball comes out of his hand at 94, 95, 96 (miles an hour)," Caldwell said. "But if you look at the gun, that's what he's throwing."

The X-factor in Crick's development may be his aptitude. Both Caldwell and Bradley said the righthander is a quick study who applies in games everything he learns in bullpens and side sessions. Caldwell said Crick has also learned to evaluate himself on the mound and make adjustments.

"He is battling much better, deeper into counts," Caldwell said. "Now we have to figure out how to stop hitters from fouling off pitches and either put them away or make them put the ball in play."

Once Crick does that, Caldwell said the Giants will have another Cain on their hands.

"If he can get the command of his fastball that Matt Cain has, you're going to have a 20-game winner for the San Francisco Giants," said Caldwell, a longtime big league pitcher who won 23 games for the Brewers in 1978. "Matt Cain is a guy who can pound the lower half of the strike zone with his fastball day in and day out. That's an admirable guy for Kyle to try to follow after."

Chris Gigley is a freelance writer based in Greensboro, N.C.